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Quadrilateral home truths

  • 14 October, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

Quadrilateral home truths


  • Recently, the foreign ministers of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. held a standalone meeting in Tokyo. This move has been viewed in geo-strategic circles as a move towards formal recognition of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD).
  • At the meet, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo singled out China as a threat to the region, highlighting its increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas and the Taiwan Straits.
  • The three other Foreign Ministers, including External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, did not directly mention China. They did, however, express broad concerns about maintaining a rules-based order, freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes in the region.

About Quad:

  • The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad) is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, Australia and India that is maintained by semi-regular summits, information exchanges and military drills between member countries.
  • The forum was initiated as a dialogue in 2007 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.
  • It was often viewed as a loose, consultative entente of like-minded democracies in the Indo-Pacific. However, China’s increasing assertiveness vis-a-vis in its neighbourhood and increasing differences with the U.S., Australia and the border skirmishes with India seems to have breathed fresh life into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

The article argues that if the Quad is to prosper as a geopolitical construct, it should pay heed to the following aspects.

1. No Indo-Pacific system:

  • There has been no such thing as an ‘Indo-Pacific system’. There have always been two Asian systems — an Indian Ocean system and an East Asian system — with intricate sub-regional balances.
  • Even the sprawling colonial powers like the British never managed to combine the Indo and the Pacific into a unitary system. The current efforts to artificially manufacture an Indo-pacific system should be evaluated in this sense.

2. ‘Balance of power’ system:

  • The Quad, though not officially declared, is aimed at containing China’s increasing assertiveness by ensuring a ‘balance of power’ system.
  • The post-18th century European ‘balance of power’ system involved the ‘flanking powers’ (Britain and Russia) resisting revisionist challengers to periodically restore the continent’s equilibrium.
  • The Indo-Pacific’s ‘flanking powers’, India and Japan, have never balanced Chinese power throughout their histories. This seems to indicate the growing asymmetry between China and its neighbours.

3. India’s dilemma:

  • India’s increasing alignment with the Quad and any decision to choke important sea lines of communication for the Chinese shipping and resource flows could invite overwhelming Chinese pressure against India’s South Asian interests — to which the other Quad members possess neither will nor desire to answer.
  • The sea lines of communication constitute an important link between the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific and India occupies a strategic location with respect to these sea lines.
  • The Quad can offer very little leverage to India’s continental two-front dilemma it faces vis-a-vis China and Pakistan.
  • India needs to use the sea lines of communication chokepoint leverage judiciously on its own terms and not on the Quad’s terms.

4. Utility of the Quad in the Indian Ocean region:

  • The Quad has a valuable role to play as a check on China’s Indian Ocean ambitions.
  • India must develop interoperable cooperation with its Quad partners and, thereby, pre-emptively dissuade China from mounting a naval challenge in the Indian Ocean region.

Way forward:

  • Keeping with the views expressed by the Indian Prime Minister in his 2018 keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue, where he emphasized India’s willingness to work with its friendly nations individually or in group formats for a stable and peaceful region, and not as alliances of containment, India’s aim of deepening its participation in the Quad should be to nudge the Indo-Pacific region’s geopolitics towards cooperation as opposed to conflict.

Source: TH

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